Books by Helen Yglesias

THE GIRLS by Helen Yglesias
Released: Oct. 5, 1999

Yglesias's first novel in 12 years (The Saviors, 1987, etc.) is an intense portrayal of four elderly sisters variously raging against the dying of the light in contemporary Miami Beach. The focal character is 80-year-old Jenny, who travels from her New England home to help settle the affairs of older sisters Eva and Naomi (beginning with 95-year-old Eva, each is five years older than her younger sibling), because 85-year-old Flora, an annoyingly vigorous extrovert, is too busy with her own unlikely affairs (she's actually a standup comic working the nursing-home circuit). None of this is entirely believable, and the story's erratic content and pacing are magnified by inordinately detailed descriptions of Miami landscapes and interiors, often presented as simple itineraries. Despite the threat of an approaching hurricane, very little happens. Jenny, always the dutiful youngest, ever the care-giver, arranges for Eva and Naomi to leave their condominiums and enter full-care facilities. Still, the novel has many impressive strengths. Jenny is an apt commentator on the trashing of contemporary culture (and Miami Beach is a wonderful target); a keen-eyed observer of such condescending horrors as "Miss Molly and Her Songs of Yesteryear . . . a very large, violently redheaded woman in an elaborately beribboned dress." Yglesias pointedly, poignantly dramatizes the continuing imperiousness of the sex drive, even among the very elderly (Flora crows about virtually all her many boyfriends: "He's desperately in love with me. I only hope he can get it up"); and she effectively distinguishes the personalities of the four sisters: frightened, cancer-ridden Naomi and frail, querulous, yet tenderhearted Eva are the most vividly done (Flora's Auntie Mame—like brio is rather more of an acquired taste). Not one of Yglesias's best, but nevertheless a thoughtful, grimly convincing portrait of old age: something of a rarity in our fiction, and a story well worth attending to. Read full book review >